The fictional city-state of Baldur's Gate, a very popular component of the larger Forgotten Realms/Dungeons and Dragons universe, has already been subjected to a number of epic video game adventures. You may remember tromping through endless waves of killer monkeys in Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, or carefully rationing your party's hit points to make it through the earlier adventures on the PC and Mac. It may not seem that such in-depth role-playing games could make it onto the cell phone in any recognizable form, but Sorrent has decided to marshal its forces for this extremely challenging project anyway. Though we only saw a quick demonstration of the nascent Baldur's Gate for mobile, we were impressed by the game's D&D authenticity and range of gameplay.
According to Baldur's Gate lead designer Stephanie Morgan, most of the Baldur's Gate team is intimately familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, as they themselves are huge fanboys (and girls). "Some of these guys have been playing D&D every Friday night for the last 15 years," Morgan told us. "When [Sorrent] approached me with the idea for this game, I agreed to spearhead the project--but only on the condition that we really do it right."
It's much too early to determine how well Sorrent has fared with the overall product, but the gameplay in the beta version certainly adheres closely to the D&D formula. When creating a new character, for instance, you can choose from four races (including human, half-orc, half-elf, and elf)--all of whose attributes have the appropriate strengths and weaknesses. For example, half-orcs have an opportunity to become much stronger than half-elves, but they'll probably never be as intelligent. In addition, Baldur's Gate offers five classes for your newly minted character to adopt, from rogue to paladin. Depending on their class, characters gradually gain access to a particular subset of 20 to 30 spells and special abilities, or "feats." These abilities might include stealth and trap disarmament for rogues or increasingly powerful incantations for mages. The success of your actions in the game is determined by a series of under-the-hood dice rolls, all of which follow D&D's rule infrastructure.
The scope of Baldur's Gate also impresses. The game is subdivided into seven chapters, the first of which consists of a short orientation as well as a main quest. Besides an assortment of monsters (which are punctuated by boss fights periodically), treasure chests, and occasional puzzle sequences, these levels are also populated by a number of non-player characters and merchants. Some NPCs will offer you the chance to complete a subquest, and they may turn against you if you can't complete it correctly. In the version of the game we saw, interaction with these characters was pretty limited, since there were no dialog options to steer the conversation. Baldur's Gate also sports a pretty comprehensive inventory system, which allows you to manage the many items that you'll collect along the way to victory. Sorrent told us that Baldur's Gate will be good for about four hours of gameplay, assuming you complete all of the subquests.
The visual feel of Baldur's Gate seems to be coming along nicely thus far. The character art is quite large and robust, and Sorrent's contextual interface system helps to cut down confusion by displaying which sorts of actions are available to you in a particular situation. For instance, a mouth icon will show up in the box next to your health and stamina meters if you're in talk mode, balanced on the other side of the gauges by an icon representing whichever feat you've readied for use. In lieu of a map, Baldur's Gate lets you scroll around your immediate area when paused, which gives you the chance to plan your path or revisit the last part of the trail as necessary.
Even in its unfinished state, Baldur's Gate conveys the impression of being a very comprehensively designed game that's packed full of details. Stay tuned for the review of the final version, which is due out in early September.